New constable ready to take on a tough job

Bridget Bellavigna of Ahwatukee has added Maricopa County Constable to her jam-packed resume that includes a diverse array of careers. (David Minton/AFN Staff Photographer)

Walk her through her diverse array of past lives and Bridget Bellavigna interjects, “I’ve had an interesting life, trust me.”

Actually, trust has nothing to do with it: it’s all there in black and white on the 40-year Ahwatukee resident’s resume, which so impressed the Maricopa County Board of Supervisors two weeks ago that they unanimously appointed her to the vacant constable position for the Kyrene Justice Court.

As only the seventh woman among the county’s 26 constables, Bellavigna will be responsible for hand-delivering subpoenas, writs, protection from abuse orders and eviction notices. She also will be executing court-ordered seizures of property to satisfy civil court judgments and when necessary, preside over tenant evictions.

Bellavigna is filling the constable position at a time when eviction orders issued by Maricopa County justice courts are steadily rising after state and federal governments halted them because of the pandemic.

Now that those suspensions are no longer in effect – and rents are soaring across the Valley – landlords are turning in droves to justice courts to free apartments, homes and store fronts from the grip of tenants whose rent is badly in arrears.

Among the county’s 26 justice courts, Kyrene – which covers Ahwatukee and Guadalupe and small parts of Tempe and Chandler – ranked fifth last year for the number of eviction notices issued, data from the courts show.

Kyrene’s 2,272 eviction notices in 2021 were not far behind 3,027 that made the Surprise court the one with the highest number of evictions. Kyrene's total dwarfed the 22 that made the Gila Bend court the one with the lowest number.

In all, 41,429 evictions were ordered last year, the data show. In the first two months of this year, 9,722 have been issued countywide. Kyrene maintained its status as the court with the fifth-highest number of evictions at 581.

Justice Courts spokesman Scott Davis said that in studying the nearly 150,000 evictions ordered county-wide in the last three years, the number of orders issued in any given month has yet to equal pre-pandemic 2019.

“We can see that February continues the prior months’ trend of a gradual return to ‘normal’ filing levels,” Davis said. “We use 2019’s filing data as our baseline because that is the most recent full year with no pandemic effects.

“February’s 4,509 eviction filings were 86% of what we saw in the corresponding month in 2019,” he said. “January’s 5,213 filings were 84% of 2019; December, 74%; November, 65%.”

But while the number of evictions has not caught up to pre-pandemic levels. The average dollar amount of judgments against tenants has soared from $1,922 in 2019 to $3,277 in 2021 – a 70% increase.

Bellavigna appreciates the seriousness and the heartbreak of the role she will be playing in seeing that eviction orders are carried out. As the owner of Desert Paradise Realty and Property Management, which she founded in 2008, she’s had her fair share of tenants in arrears.

“We have to do this; it’s the law,” she said. “And it’s kind of hard to do when rents are being inflated the way they are, but it is what it is, and it’s got to be done. And I’d rather be the one that does it with a little bit of empathy and compassion, and see if there are resources on hand, to see if there’s something that can be done to assist them. That’s not my job but if I can provide resources, that doesn’t hurt me or anybody else.”

A Navy veteran who learned complex electronics when she was station in San Diego from 1981 to 1984, Bellavigna is aware of the resources that can help veterans who are struggling to keep up with their rent.

There are resources for non-veterans, too, she said, and the biggest challenge often is connecting tenants to them.

“We’re a service to the community,” she said. “Most people don’t know how to get them, but there are resources out there. Hopefully I’ll be able to provide some of those, which most judges probably can’t do.”

Bellavigna expressed compassion for those tenants who find themselves on the verge of losing their home, saying “I think rates and rents are going up stupidly.”

And she knows that in executing her duties, she could face not only heartbreaking situations but volatile ones as well.

“It’s a shame this is going on right now,” she said of soaring rents, admitting that has compounded the stress factor.

“That’s the only thing that could be a little bit jarring on my side – that I’m knocking on doors,” she said. “People are more stressed than ever and I have to be cautious about that. But I think if you treat people with respect and dignity, it’s harder for them to get mad at you.”

Bellavigna, who plans to run on the November ballot for a four-year term as Kyrene Justice Court constable, is the third person to fill that position since the last election in 2018, when Democrat Kent Rini of Tempe was elected and quit in a matter of weeks after taking office amid growing complaints by his supervisors about his performance.

He was replaced by Ahwatukee resident and 27-year law enforcement veteran Ben Halloran, who resigned in December for personal reasons.

Bellavigna’s diverse career has included six years as a U.S. Department of Defense contractor working on intricate electrical systems for fighter jets and helicopters; nine years providing the light and sound systems nationwide for bands and corporate events; and nine years running a business as co-owner with her father of a patent for a unique lathe that improved the fit of contact lenses on people’s eyes.

She even owned a gym in Ahwatukee that was exclusively for women. She opened Ahwatukee CrossFit in 2015 while also running her real estate brokerage and property management company and found that in the four years she ran the gym, “I got into the best shape of my life.”

But she closed it in mid-2019 – a stroke of good timing since the pandemic eight months later triggered the long-term shutdown of gyms.

She said she’s already told the supervisors that if she wins a full term as constable, she will divest herself from her realty/property management company and that “I’m 100% fine with that.”

“I like to do new things and learn new things,” said Bellavigna, who said she applied for the constable position out of a desire to give back to the community – an attitude reflected by her motto, “Service Before Self.”

Active in three nonprofits that help military veterans in various ways, Bellavigna also maintains a realistic attitude toward the new job she is taking on.

“A lot of people don’t even know what a constable is,” she conceded. “I think your basic citizen has no idea. If they’ve never been in trouble, they would never run into a constable. And we don’t give out the citizen-of-the-year awards, that’s for sure.”

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